In 1945 George Orwell wrote The Sporting Spirit for the Tribune.
In it he observed that:
Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved. it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.
He added that:
Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.
On the day that I revisited George Orwell’s article I received a PhilPapers alert to Philippe Mongin’s paper, A Game-Theoretic Analysis of the Waterloo Campaign and Some Comments on the Analytic Narrative Project.
In his paper Phillippe presents a game-theoretic model of Napoleon’s last campaign, which ended dramatically on 18 June 1815 at Waterloo. It looks in particular at the decision Napoleon made “on 17 June 1815 to detach part of his army against the Prussians he had defeated, though not destroyed, on 16 June at Ligny”.
Napoleon’s all-crucial decision, June 17, 1815, the day after his victory over Blucher at Ligny. That day he chose to send more than a third of his forces, under the command of Grouchy, against the retreating Prussians. All the commentators agree that this division of the French army was the key to Wellington’s victory, June 18 at Waterloo. Grouchy spent the fateful day at Wavre, baited by Blucher’s rear guard, while the advance guard marched unimpeded to join Wellington in the mist of an uncertain battle. The campaign’s greatest question, which involves Napoleon’s rationality, is whether he could have made better use of Grouchy’s detachment. The model we propose to answer this question takes the form of a simple zero-sum game between Napoleon and Blucher. Despite the absence of Grouchy as an autonomous player, it adds precision to the competing hypotheses.
Section 3 of Phillippe’s paper provides extensive detail to support the game theoretic approach. As I worked my way through his model I was fascinated by the interplay of other observations on events.
I finished the paper thinking about many sporting coaches’ interest in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and how Phillippe might extend their understanding.
I thought too about how knowledge discovery in databases is transforming the support available for real-time decision making.
Whilst contemplating this I thought about the number of announcements being made around the world about additional funds for Olympic programs with ‘medal prospects’. The sporting world George Orwell described has access now to very powerful analysis tools that project medal success. If we can revisit world changing military encounters then it is highly likely we can extend the methodologies from the battle ground to the sport arena.
I think I will retrace my steps with a look at Will Hopkins, John Hawley and Louise Burke’s paper (1999) (Design and analysis of research on sport performance enhancement) and by dusting off my copy of Carl von Clausewitz’s On War.